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'Failure' of test and trace system could lead to more major outbreaks, says Sandwell health boss

By Jamie Brassington | Sandwell | Coronavirus | Published:

A health chief has warned more major coronavirus outbreaks could happen at Black Country businesses due to failures with the Government's test and trace system.

CBS Packaging in West Bromwich

The warning - made by Sandwell's director of public health Dr Lisa McNally - follows the closure of CBS Packaging, in West Bromwich, after more than a third of its workers caught Covid-19.

Dr McNally says the Government is not providing local public health teams with the employment details of people who have tested positive for the virus.

It means positive cases cannot accurately be tracked to places of work - preventing health officials from stopping outbreaks escalating.

The issue has lead to Sandwell's public health officials setting up their own test and trace system.

Dr McNally told the Express & Star: "If we had been given the place of work for everyone that tested positive - alongside date of birth and postcode - CBS Packaging's outbreak would not have happened.

"We would have gotten in there when there was three cases instead of 30 odd cases. And that is 79 people who wouldn't have been positive who are now.

"And I wonder, how many other CBS Packagings are out there? As we are talking now, is there a factory in Sandwell, that we are seeing two cases, three cases, but nobody is joining the dots between them?"

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Forty-nine workers tested positive for Covid-19 - out of 117 workers in total - when CBS Packaging closed its doors earlier this month for a 14-day incubation period.

That increased to 79 when their relatives were also checked.

The cases were tracked to addresses in Smethwick and West Bromwich which have become hotspots for coronavirus.

Dr McNally says the Government is also failing to contact almost half of people in Sandwell who have tested positive for Covid-19 in general.

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Lisa McNally, director of public health, Sandwell Council

"The national test and trace system is failing to get in touch with people in our area," she said.

"Forty per cent of people who test positive are not being contacted by the national test and trace system at the moment, so we need to pick up the slack on that."

She added: "The fact that they don't collect place of work and share that information with us is plain daft, in public health terms."

In response to the Express & Star's story, a Government spokesman for the Department of Health said: "NHS Test and Trace has already helped test and isolate more than 180,000 cases - helping us control the spread of the virus, prevent a second wave and save lives.

"The service is working closely with local authorities across England to help manage local outbreaks and data is shared daily.

"Everyone has their part to play and this includes getting tested if you have symptoms, as well as sharing as much information as possible when providing test samples."

Jamie Brassington

By Jamie Brassington
Senior Multi-Media Journalist - @JamieB_Star

Senior reporter at the Express & Star. Contact me at jamie.brassington@expressandstar.co.uk.

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